The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (14:14-22)
By God’s grace we have received a very timely and powerful message today from the holy evangelist St. Matthew. He tells us that as Our Lord Jesus Christ was going ashore he saw a great throng of people. How many people were there exactly? We do not know. We are only told that there were 5,000 men and that the women and children were also present. So it was quite likely that there were anywhere from 15,000 to possibly more than 30,000 people present in that great crowd. All of them waiting to see the Messiah. All of them there to hear a word, or to receive healing for their illnesses or the illnesses of their loved ones.
St. Matthew, who was a direct eyewitness to the events that are being described, tells us that Our Lord saw that great multitude and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. We live in a world that often seems cold and full of brutal realities. Depending on how we look at the world, that is a legitimate point of view. Yet, I’m comforted to hear these words, that the Lord of creation, our master and savior had compassion on those people. And in His great compassion for them, He healed their sicknesses and alleviated their suffering. We are awestruck by the mercy of the Son of God and His care for all of these people, and these people are symbolic of all people who wait on Christ. These multitudes who are sick and suffering are symbols and reminders of our current state both spiritually, physically and emotionally.
We may not want to admit it but many of us are suffering and hurting, perhaps not physically but emotionally, and spiritually, we feel drained. We feel hunger and thirst for relief from all the perceived problems of our day. For weeks, it has been clear to me that we as a people need to fast from the news and current affairs of this world, at least for a time. We are wounding our souls with the wounds of hopelessness, fear and despair. Guard your minds and hearts from the things that lead to you to sin. Sin is whatever cuts us off from a thriving relationship with the Lord. Sometimes the sin that we must guard against is hopelessness, anxiety and fear. But this becomes impossible to avoid if we continually feed them. A monster must be starved and our passions are like baby monsters that need to be starved so that they will grow weak and finally die or at least they will become so insignificant that we can merely brush them aside like little pesky flies, by God’s grace.
Here we are, multitudes of people all around. Some suffering loneliness, others fatigue, others are actually physically sick with various illnesses. But where are we going for healing? I cannot tell you the answer, because I don’t know what you do or what you turn to in your times of need. So you have to be honest about that question and answer it for yourself. Perhaps we turn to social media, or video games, perhaps we chat with our friends or read more news, perhaps we turn to food or strong drink, perhaps we turn to harmful websites and pornography. Perhaps we turn to buying things in the hopes that these things will give us some relief. Perhaps we try to control other aspects of our lives because we feel that things around us are out of control. Whatever the case may be, we need to ask ourselves honestly “where do I turn for relief?” If our answer is anything but the Lord Jesus Christ, we will need to refocus our hearts and minds. Our life can be filled with inexhaustible hope and relief through a renewed focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. But how do we do that?
Here are a few practical methods. First, be determined to live above all, by the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the fathers tell us that the beginning of knowing God is unflinching, unwavering obedience to the commandments of the Lord, as far as it is humanly possible.
Here is another practical method for refocusing on the Lord: Keep a daily rule of prayer, both morning and evening at the very least. These don’t need to be long prayers but they need to be disciplined and they need to become a routine for us. This rule of prayer will become seed for a garden of prayer in your life. No one can expect fruit unless he first plants something, right? If you do not have a regular, established routine for morning and evening prayer, or if you have a rule of prayer but don’t keep it very well, please come and speak with me or call me and we can work together to find something that will be a starting point or a launchpad.
Don’t we want to know Christ? Don’t we want to experience that healing and that peace and hope? Sometimes we feel that God is absent from our lives, but we should honestly ask if it is not that God is absent from us, but that we are absent from God, perhaps simply going through the motions. Our depth in any relationship in life is limited only by our desire and our effort to understand the other and to communicate as well as listen to the other. Our love is demonstrated through our efforts to know the other. Modern Christians have lost much of this ability to hear God. His voice is drowned out by the busyness of our lives and our lack of attention to the most important things. But I promise you that this is a worthwhile pursuit. It is not only for monks and nuns and hermits to know God intimately. The Lord says “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Likewise He says “Be still and know that I am God.” This stillness is found through the hard work of heartfelt prayer and this begins with small steps that build a foundation.
One of the next and best ways to refocus our spiritual lives is to energize our life in Christ through the sacrament of confession. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God says “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will heard from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” So we begin by seeking His face. How will we find Him unless we seek Him with intensity, even with tears? But next we are reminded that God also looks for us to repent and turn from things that are not well pleasing in His sight. He desires repentance not only for individuals but for families, communities and nations.
There is very little that is as powerful in the life of a Christian who desires to make spiritual progress as the sacrament of confession. St. Isaac the Syrian writes “The sick one who is acquainted with his sickness is easily to be cured; and he who confesses his pain is near to health. Many are the pains of the hard heart; and when the sick one resists the physician, his torments will be made greater.” But St. Isaac also had this to say “There is no sin which cannot be pardoned except that one which lacks repentance.” It is of vital importance for your psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being that you come and confess your sins. We need to unburden ourselves and when we confess in humility, it is as if we tie our sins to the Holy Spirit and He takes them and flies away with them. We are left feeling new energy, new life, and a sense of peace as we continue this Christian struggle to live as children of God.
In the gospel today, we are told that the disciples wanted to send the people away to get food, but the Lord corrected them. He told them that they would give them something to eat. There is no doubt that this is also a reference to the apostles as the leaders of the Holy Church. I cannot send you away when everything that you need for real and lasting health and joy ishere. Christ Himself is the bread that will feed you. The Holy Spirit is the living water that will quench your thirst. So stop looking elsewhere and follow Him as those multitudes did 2000 years ago. Seek His healing touch daily.As St. Paul writes in Philippians 4:19 “and my God shall supply every need of yours according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”He loves us and He will never send us away empty handed, but rather refreshed and restored. AMEN.